Elle Barbara - Class of 2020



Where are you from?

I’m originally from Haiti and I grew up in Montreal

How would you describe your style and musical approach?

I have many interests. For example, I wrote a song inspired by zouk, but if I had to define my style, I would say that I make synth-pop.

What inspires you?

I have multiple sources of inspiration, my favourite ones are the unexpected ones. I have a particular interest in language, sometimes a conversation with someone will spark an idea. To give you an example, I wrote a song after reading a facebook post shared by an artist. She wrote something along the lines of “Florida is a future”, that really inspired me.

What’s your mindset when you’re making music?

I’m really not spontaneous, It’s actually one of my weaknesses. My approach is extremely calculated. I calculate everything, the chords, the words, instrumental. I’m involved throughout the entire musical process because I have a precise idea that I want to create, even though I’m not very good with instruments.

What do you mean?

I’m a poor instrumentalist [laughs]… I’m very rebellious, that definitely doesn’t help. I am not particularly interested in playing the keys at live shows for example. I do the composition and the writing of my songs, give up to my group then lead them. In the studio, I’ll do as much as I can then I’ll invite a musician to reproduce what I'm singing into keys. I don’t present myself as a musician but more so a performance artist, the visual aspect is what intrigues me.

You’re involved in many projects outside of music, what else do you do?

I perform, I write for Editorial Magazine, I write on Facebook (which I consider a form of performance through writing), I also work as an activist here in Montreal. I founded Talking what we need, a collective that distributes money to trans communities.

Tell us about your project House of Barbara?

I had an important role in developing the ballroom scene in Montreal. The Ballroom system is organized around multiple houses represented by a house mother, which I find really interesting. To me, this role is a way to strengthen our community. The ballroom scene has many young queer/trans and afro people who do not always have the support of their families. I feel like I can guide them, I have a lot of knowledge when it comes to health and they can relate to me as a black trans artist.

According to you, how can young Black artists get more recognition in the local artistic scene?

I think that we need to make our own path, take advantage of the web. I’ve done a lot of interviews with mainstream Quebecois media and the experience wasn’t pleasant. I got criticized for ignoring the cultural scene in Quebec, not wanting to partake in it, etc. It’s like damned if you do, damned if you don’t. As a black-trans woman, I don’t want to be tokenized and only exist through a stereotype of myself. As a black person, it can be stressful to constantly be in white environments. Media platforms construct false narratives that are not representative of our reality. That’s why it’s important for us to take control of our narrative.

Artist: Elle Barbara @elle_barbs
photography: Koku Awuye
Words: Yasmine Seck & Alpha Oumarou